I ran across a bit of artwork recently that put me over the edge on understanding what it is that appeals to me about pieces like that one. They posses so much depth and richness that even in the shadowy unseen parts of the painting you know there is detail. In most art I don’t feel like I could dive into the landscape to discover the reverse side of the subject. These paintings that intrigue me convince me that I could. Could enter the painting and find more flowers among the shadows of the trees; find beetles crawling in the cool grimy shade; find the fox that just ducked behind the barn as the artist brought out her easel.
Ok. So, great.
Some paintings bring out an emotion through lack of detail. Or through condensing that detail to iconic representation. These paintings I have in mind go to the other end. They amplify the detail—appropriately. I’m not sure this is good practice in writing. Or I’m not sure I’d be able to pull it off they way I’d like.
The trouble I see is that I’d feel like I was cataloging the landscape not incorporating it. I do something similar to put my kids to bed sometimes. Starting in one corner of the room I verbally tour the items in their room in monotonous sleepy detail.
But I’m reminded that I’ve seen this pulled off well by others. I’ve got no examples because that’s not how my mind works, but I can imagine reading the description of a fantastical market. The author plumbing the origin of each bizarre fruit or meat or trinket. Infusing the reader with the characters’ experience. Sure she overstuffs the reader with non-essential storyline, but she pulls it off. We like it—I want to recreate it.
I’m thinking it’s often about timing in the story. Knowing when you can slow the reader down. Let them soak up the atmosphere and just coast for a bit. But I’m also thinking that it has to do with technique. In the faster parts of a story you need to capture the quintessential ‘thing’. Show the reader the absolute canonical object or action. Once you set that up you need to torque it just a little by marring the canon a bit.
Well that’s enough talking about writing for today.